Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

The Symbol Didn't Work

bluish's picture

Black Woman =/= Black, Woman

“Even though both ‘Olive’ and ‘I’ live inside a conflict neither one of us created, and even though both of us therefore hurt inside that conflict, I may be one of the monsters she needs to eliminate from her universe and, in a sense, she may be one of the monsters in mine” (Jordan 47).

I am no woman. I hold no sentimentality for that which accompanies womanhood. I am a black woman. But I am not representative of the black woman. This is the mess of it; the murkiness of identity and its many implications. We may postulate and analyze ourselves into oblivion, but the universe shall make space for us, and in return we owe it the decency of getting on without too much fuss.

There is a point to be made of my previous statement: I am no woman. Frankly, I have never felt comfortable in this space, and entering a historically mono-gendered institution has brought this disconnection to the fore of my own self-awareness. Traditionally “feminist” environments are steeped in homogeneity, and although great strides are being made to eradicate such limiting factors, the foundation of misunderstanding will not be shaken through quotas, affinity groups, or slam poetry. There is no fault in our romantic desires for sisterhood and camaraderie; I support this, I, too, dream of it; however, in the mess of it all, we must acknowledge the distinctions. Too often when discussing these rifts, the immediate response is to ‘Kumbaya’ until dawn. To deny the complexities of black womanhood in any capacity is an anti-feminist act.

Historically speaking, the black woman’s body has been commodified by the western world. These reductions, although wholly exacted, were and are not wholly experienced. The negro and the mulatto may have functioned within the same greater scheme, but their apparent discrepancies would become the basis for centuries of residual grief and experiential dissonance. The relationship between June and her maid Olive is one grounded in this notion. Jordan alludes to the widening gap between black women of varying socio-economic statures. This matured, should-be retired, black woman is reduced to “Olive the Maid.” She is her servitude; she is her silence; she is her function within the matrix of colonialism and consumerism, and Jordan must navigate the liminal space that lies between them.

When speaking of Olive, Jordan states: “My ‘rights’ and my ‘freedom’ and my ‘desire’ and a slew of other New World values… ‘Olive’ is older than I am and I may smoke a cigarette while she changes the sheets on my bed” (Jordan 41). Isn’t this it then? This is the reality. This is our reality. This is my reality as a light-skinned black woman. I shall smoke my cigarette whilst the many Olive’s inhale my leftovers. I live in excess, and academia, and “New World” ideas-- these are the bitter truths of African diasporic disconnect, and I am a beneficiary of the wicked system.

I am often asked to view myself in a fractional way, compartmentalizing what cannot be in the name of convenience. Confining myself to a one-dimensional lens through which others might palatably dissect that which will benefit their own understandings. It is not that I refuse to accept the individuality of my various identities, but rather that I am doomed to exist between them, damned and coerced by models and figures overhead, writhing at the crux of what it means to be and what others mean me to be.

In her essay, Jordan touches on the breadth of black womanhood, and within such vastness, there is much room for disconnect. There are layers of complexity, and history, and struggle that transcend these ascribed identities. The complications of blackness and woman-ness when coupled are reason enough to be pessimistic; however, acknowledging these internal rifts does not dismantle the foundational layers of structural togetherness. We are, together, shot into a universe of obscurity, but the collisions are our own, and we must find some way to become within the rubble.




calamityschild's picture

Amaka, I could tell from the first day of class that you are have a talent for expression! I enjoyed reading your post very much. You must keep writing.